By: Kat Moore
[ I went out looking for him ]
Electric lights throb in a broken rhythm to the sound of the Eighties humming out of the jukebox. Smoke rolls through fishnets past stiletto heels. I sway to alcohol and the sound of gay men. I’m twenty one years old. BJ is in front of me wearing a black cowboy hat, vest and chaps, decked out like a leather clad villain in an urban western. He sniffs and says, Bob Moore. There’s white residue under his nose. I hope he shares. David looks like a yuppie in his blue golf shirt and khakis, tears stream down his face and he says it, too, Bob Moore. I have found people who knew my brother.
JWAGS is notorious in Memphis, notorious for drugs, fights, and after hours drinking. Most straight kids who frequent this bar are looking for drugs. Straight guys give out blow jobs in the bathroom to get their quick fix of cocaine. I want alcohol and drugs but I can go to plenty of other bars or the streets for my addiction. I’m looking for someone, anyone, who knew my brother. I’m there quite often and I chat up all the men that look like they may be the age Bob would be if he were alive. I always say his name to these strangers, no segue. I walk right up with my black short hair and smeared eyeliner wearing some tattered dress that I think is punk and I say, did you know Bob Moore?
Short hair, white long sleeve shirt, holes-in-the-knee jeans, leaning on a brown late model car. Is this a real memory? I think so. The time he picked me up from school when dad was in the drunk tank. Bob waited, parked next to the curb in front of my junior high school.
I remember my brother.
The feelings of love.
A flash of him with long curly hair.
Pressed ROTC uniform.
But it’s a photograph. I wasn’t there.
Or maybe, it was when I faked sick. Mom made him take me to my grandmother’s. The inside of his car, dusty, traces of the sun spilled through the windows. The arm rest with upholstery missing and tiny scissors with feathers rested in the handle. He drives. Arm extended, one hand on the wheel, the other by the window, flicking the ash off a cigarette. His head slightly pivots and he says something to me. The audio’s blurred. Voices under water. Memories I can’t hold.
Or, I am on the back of a motorcycle, in a blue sweatshirt wearing a helmet on my small head. But this is my sister. She told me this story.
In the hospital, there’s a parasite in Bob’s head. It worms around tissue and bites little holes. Four point restraints hold him to the bed. His legs kick but the straps over his ankles keep him from running away.
He thinks he’s somewhere else.
He thinks he’s on LSD and dancing through the streets of Mardi Gras.
It’s almost Fat Tuesday. His heart has transported him to where he wants to be. His body shakes, his thin skin stretches over bones. Sounds mutter out of his dry lips. Our dad holds his hand and whispers to him. I linger by the door.
I’m fourteen years old. It’s 1992. There’s no cure for AIDS, no medicine that works. He has toxoplasmosis. More than likely he got the parasite from petting a cat. I can’t get it—my immune system is not compromised.
Toxoplasmosis—a parasitic disease. The primary host is the felid (cat) family. [remember Tommy in the film version of Trainspotting? The curly haired one? The nice one. The one who got AIDS. The one who died from a worm in his brain, a worm from the kitten he had to replace the girl who broke his heart. But Bob never had a cat, or I think his roommate did, I don’t remember.]
- The faculty by which the mind stores and remembers information.
—the mind regarded as a store of things remembered.
She’s losing his memory
- Something remembered from the past; a recollection
—the remembering or recollection of a dead person
Happy memories of his young days
[a parasite in his memory, eating holes in mine.]
Bob tears his esophagus. He vomits blood all over Café Roux where he works as a waiter. My dad tells me this. I don’t know what caused this to happen. I don’t know he has AIDS, not yet.
Now, I wonder—
Did he try to clean it up on his own and panicked if anyone came near it?
Did he tell anyone he had AIDS?
Who cleaned up the blood?
My mom would have poured a bucket of bleach over the blood, a whole bucket for a tiny drop. Bob had his own glasses to drink from at our house, Mom made sure of it.
Toxoplasma gondii may cause an infection known as encephalitis.
Encephalitis—an infection of the brain. Severe headaches that won’t go away, fever, fits, confusion. Dizziness and vomiting can also occur.
[Bob told me that the fever wasn’t so bad, it had him dancing down Bourbon Street.]
I dance in the den to Poison’s album Look What the Cat Dragged In. My arms out as I spin. I jump around, then bend forward and swirl my brown hair around Metallica style. I’m ten years old. This is the house in Frayser, the poor suburb of Memphis. The den is off the kitchen but separate from the rest. The tiles are green and off-white. My feet leap from one square to the next. I notice the door is slightly open. Bob peeks in. I stop. Tim is with him. Over Bret Michaels, I hear Bob say, she’s growing up. She really needs a bra. And I’m terribly embarrassed that he noticed my boobs. I’m only ten, but yes, they are there, and growing larger every day.
I run to the bathroom and barge in on my older sister, Lanie. She’s brushing her teeth. I jerk my shirt off and twist the white bra around me and fasten and then twist it again to bring the cups around to the right side but I can’t get it on. I’m all tangled and panicked. Lanie stops and says, what are you doing? And I whine but it’s incoherent but she somehow understands and helps me get the bra on.
There are three stages of memory.
Encoding—the present, before it becomes past, is changed into images, sounds, or meanings in order to be stored for later.
Storage—tucked away in the mind.
Retrieval—untucking it, or recalling.
Some come in clearly but most drift in and out, distorted faces, a smear of orange and pink. Sometimes there’s only a feeling.
Like when I woke up screaming. Five years old and in a hospital room. My tonsils had been taken out and the raw feel of my throat made me scream. Bob was in the room. I can’t see it. Yet, I know he was there. I know he spoke to me, calmly, sweetly. I feel his tenderness when I remember this moment yet I can’t recall the images other than fluorescent lights, a door ajar, and me in a hospital bed with my mouth wide open howling. I see this as someone else in the room and not from my own point of view. The pain in the throat and then softness, a soothing light. I know Bob said something to me, offered me ice cream, something to make my cries stop. But I can’t see it.
Eleven years old.
New Kids on the Block posters on the Wall.
The two Coreys.
The Lost Boys.
The time of Madonna, female sexual autonomy, and gay rights. I play CDs. I think of things I’m not supposed to know about, things Madonna has revealed to me. I’m sure Bob is gay. He always brings his roommate, Tim, over. He’s tall and thin like Bob and nice looking but not quite as handsome.
He also brings Tim over on Christmas morning, around three or four am. He’s definitely drunk or high or a little of both but I didn’t know that then. I think it’s a treat, a nice surprise, almost better than my parents pretending there’s a Santa Claus. He bangs on the door and we all get up. He gives us our gifts. Mine is a sweatshirt that looks like it has a button down shirt underneath it but it is one layer made to look like two. The bottom part of the faux button down hangs below the sweatshirt hem like a short dress. Bob says, the sales girls tried to sell me the bottoms that matched but I told her my little sister thinks she’s Madonna.
I follow David and BJ into the restroom. BJ sits on the toilet and pulls out a bag filled with white powder. He passes it to me. Sweat rolls down David’s face. He leans forward over the sink and examines his pores in the mirror. I lean against the wall behind David. It’s hot and stinks of sex and shit in this tiny bathroom. BJ snorts. I want stories about Bob. I want them to tell me that they remember Bob talking about me. A familiar taste drips down my throat and euphoria washes over me. I can hear Pat Benetar’s Invincible coming from the bar. I close my eyes and listen to the rapid beat of my heart.
We’re in the kitchen. Our parents are at work. I plead for him not to take to me to my grandmother’s. He reaches for the phone mounted on the wall behind him. I sit on the floor and play with our little dog Spot. He isn’t spotted. Bob leans back on the table, or maybe he leans on the frame of the doorway that leads to the laundry room. Bob calls my mom. Yes, my mom. We have different moms. He’s from my dad’s first marriage. We’re sixteen years apart in age. When I tell people this, they seem to think it lessens the story, a half-brother not a real brother. I was born into this. He is my brother. It’s all I have ever known.
He tries his best to convince my mom that I’m truly sick and do not need the agitation of my grandmother, Mimi. My mother, knowing that I’m faking because I hate school, insists I need to be looked after. It’s punishment for leaving school early. Junior High is the worst. No one talks to me. Bob hangs up the phone. He has to take me to Mimi’s. She likes to talk about sex, which later in my life is quite amusing, but not so as a 12 year old. Mimi’s also a bit racist, the bigotry of her time still lingers. Bob smiles and says, when she starts talking crazy just say—Mimi, I am dogging the whole football team.
Inside JWAGS, David hugs me and tells me how much he loved my brother. BJ laughs and says, damn girl, I thought you were just here for the coke.
- Toxoplasma gondii. (tŏk’sə-plāz’mə gŏn’dē-ī’) is an obligate, intracellular, parasitic protozoan that causes the disease toxoplasmosis.
Obligate—capable of functioning only in a particular condition or by assuming a particular behavior.
Intracellular—occurring or being situated inside a cell.
Parasitic—pertaining to, of the nature of or caused by a parasite. Term that describes organisms living in or on other organisms from which food is obtained .
Protozoan—belonging to a group characterized for being single-celled, mostly motile and heterotrophic.
Heterotrophic—pertaining to the utilization of organic compounds as source of carbon.
Those are the definitions.
I’m not sure what any of it means.
Obligate Intracellular Parasitic [killer]
Protozoan Heterotrophic rhymes with homophobic [end rhyme]
Hetero homo…. normative
As a child Bob played football. He and Joey, they were close in age.
Joey is my other brother. Bob gave him a Madonna CD. Being an eleven year old girl in 1989, I listened to it. Inside the CD case was a small insert. The Facts about AIDS. The way it is and isn’t transmitted. Maybe it was part of the Madonna CD or maybe it was Bob communicating to Joey, but this was when I knew. I knew he had AIDS.
My obsession is not limited to gay bars.
At restaurants, if the server is an older gay man, I’ll ask him, too.
A server at a family restaurant knew him. All I got out of him was, I remember Bob moving to Queens with Icky Vicki and he was mugged on the subway. I don’t know if he means Bob was mugged or if it was Vick. Before I could ask, he scurried off to refill drinks. I remember Bob moving to New York, I remember him coming home. Icky Vicki must be Vick. He had a little brown dog, no, Bob had the dogs—Petey and Abby and another one whose name I can’t recall. In those last days, Vick cooked dinner for everyone. Vick held Bob’s hand on his deathbed.
Dad’s in jail for public intoxication or DUI. He’s stuck in the drunk tank to dry out. Bob and I pick up Jeff, his best friend. Jeff lives off Madison in a rickety guest house. There’s graffiti on a nearby wall. Bob and Jeff read it aloud. Die Fag. Suck a Cock Fag. This is Gay. They both chuckle. Bob drives us to the impound lot to retrieve our dad’s car. We pass a billboard of New Kids on the Block. I went to their concert a year earlier. Our dad was drunk when he picked me up. My friend’s dad was on time and offered to take me home. I refused and waited alone in front of the Mid-South Coliseum. The parking lot almost empty. The security guard made his way toward me when my dad pulled up. We swerved the whole way home. Bob told me to call him if that happened again.
But now I’m over NKOTB. Bob says, look, it’s your favorite. And I say, I don’t like them anymore, they’re a bunch of fags.
When I am five, I answer the phone. It’s Bob. He wants to talk to Dad but Dad refuses his call. Mom gets on the phone. A month later Dad is talking to him again and everyone pretends that nothing has happened. Much later in life, my mother tells me, your dad loved Bob so much that he chased him through the snow. She doesn’t remember when or the context, only our dark street covered in snow. The streetlights shining down lighting up the whiteness as Bob moves through it, his feet kicking up sprays of light. Dad following until he catches him. Wraps his arms around and says, I love you.
My mother comes home. Our little dog Spot circles around the room. I’m twelve years old and think I’m fat because I developed boobs and hips while the other girls are still flat and narrow. My mom is tall and slim. She was a flight attendant in the Sixties. A type of beauty I will never quite live up to. Her purse is in her hand and then she sets it down on the stovetop. I say, I have something I want to ask you but I don’t want you to get mad at me.
The doorframe is behind her, she stands perfectly centered. The kitchen table is to her right and beyond it is the big window that reveals our big backyard that slopes down to the woods. She says, ok.
I ask, is Bob gay?
And she says, I don’t want to tell you with all that is going on. [dad unemployed/in the drunk tank]
And I cry then say, and he has AIDS
She nods. She puts her arms around me. The shoulder of her purple silk shirt is slick with my tears and snot.
Protozoa. Parasite. Splashes of light on an MRI. The brain. The most complex organ.
The brain is how we feel
or how we perceive to feel,
how we remember, how I’m able to remember,
if we are brain dead, we are dead.
If I think, therefore I am.
Descartes thought the brain held the soul inside the pineal gland. If the parasite, protozoa, the paisley lesion—paisley when the imaging is in color—the worm, this thing in my brother’s brain, makes it inside the pineal gland, what will happen then?
I’m nine years old and Bob says, you always wanted me to kiss you like a movie star.
Gross, I scream.
You were five. You didn’t understand. I’d just pick you up and, he makes kissing sounds and then kisses me all over my face. I giggle and run away.
My mom looks nervous when he kisses me. She throws away any cups or utensils he uses. When he dies, I’m given his waterbed. She scrubs the plastic mattress with Clorox.
Bob got it in the early Eighties. From Randy who wore a gold chain and worked in the greenhouse. He and Bob owned a plant nursery. This was back when it was called gay cancer. Randy—tall and thin with a moustache, his shirt always slightly unbuttoned. I remember riding a pony at his house.
Randy’s son’s birthday party.
Bob holds the reins and leads me through the neighborhood. I have two views of this. The one I recall first—tall trees lean over a side street and a girl [me] on a brown pony is being led by a man with thick brown hair [Bob]. Then the one that I have to squint and focus and untuck with effort—I’m on the pony as sunlight falls through the leaves of the trees and shines across his hair. In both, I see only the back of his head but never his face. There’s a house on Jackson Avenue with overgrown grass and a chain link fence. Anytime I pass it, I think of their house and the pony ride. My sister tells me their house was on Getwell Road. Randy is dead. He was the first to go.
David and I follow BJ out of the restroom, pass the bar and out into the patio area. We sit at a partially rotted picnic table. I think this is the night I’ve been waiting on. I say, Is Jeff in Nashville?
BJ shakes his head, he’s dead.
David cries, again.
I ask, little Jeff?
BJ says, you say you’re Bob’s sister, then you think I don’t know what Jeff you’re talking about. If we are talking about Bob, then I know which Jeff.
Same thing. Same thing as all of us.
We briefly live in North Carolina when I am eight and nine. Late one night, the phone rings. Bob is in the hospital with swollen lymph nodes. Dad gets dressed and leaves to drive to a nearby city to catch a plane. My grandmother pays for him to fly to Memphis.
In 1987, at the end of his second term, President Ronald Reagan finally publicly addresses the AIDS pandemic. At that time, 36,058 Americans had been diagnosed with AIDS and 20,849 had died an AIDS related death. Related meaning that AIDS kills the immune system and then you die from something like pneumonia [or a tiny little worm from your pet cat].
My aunt Judy says, I thank my God daily for President Reagan.
Since she believes in God, I ask her, why did God let Bob get AIDS?
And she replies, the wages of sin are death.
I’m no longer sure how I feel about God
or Aunt Judy.
Dad picks me up from school in his little silver Chevette. He wears a black jacket. He’s sober and out of jail. I tell him that I know about Bob. He nods. Light passes through tree limbs, cascades through the windows, and slides across my dad’s face. This is the first time I see my dad cry. He says Bob was worried that I would be ashamed of him.
Bob lives in the apartment attached to the back of his mom’s house. My dad and I drop by. The door opens. Bob. Tall. Lean. Shrinking. His lips are chapped. A black and gray sweater in his hands. He folds it and sets it on the bed next to his overflowing laundry basket. This isn’t right.
It’s the utility room with the washer and dryer. Thick heat lingers.
Or it’s his small living room.
The sweater drops from his hands. The gray and the black folded. Set down. He smiles. He speaks. I can feel the difference. He knows I know. But we don’t talk about it.
My dad has moved us to an apartment in East Memphis. It’s smaller than the house we were in but the neighborhood is nicer and the schools are better. Along with his other job, he does security for the apartment complex and we get free rent. Bob comes over. He brings his little brown dog, always a little brown dog. Perhaps he read Chekhov but I know he prefers Jackie Collins. He comes over and sits in the reclining chair. A storm stirs outside. The lights flicker and go out. Mom lights a candle and sets it on the coffee table. Bob has fallen asleep in the chair. She drapes an afghan across him. The neighbors knock on the door to see if we, too, have lost power, and somehow the little dog gets out. Mom and Dad grab flashlights and rush out into the storm to find it. I sit on the loveseat and stare through the flame.
His cheeks are sunken. Candle light dances over the caves beneath his eyes. Thin lips.
My parents return with the dog. Dad pauses and stares at Bob. Mom stares at Bob. We all see it. We see him slipping away. We know it won’t be long now.
I date a boy from a private school. He decides I’m no longer cool. His friends call and say that my brother is a faggot and AIDS is gonna kill him.
The church we attend says the same thing but in a slightly politer way. Dad stays home on Sundays or he goes fishing, but he no longer goes to church. I don’t want to go anymore either.
It’s July, four nights before my fifteenth birthday. My friend Beth stays the night. We’re in our night shirts and baggy boxer shorts, watching The Shining, I think. I’m not sure. I know that I was watching Paper Moon on New Year’s Day when I got my first period but I’m not sure of this.
The phone rings. It’s Bob’s mom. I wake up my dad who has fallen asleep on the couch. He takes the phone from me. After he hangs up, he says, we knew this was coming. And I know he is telling that to himself. Beth hugs me. Awkwardly. Neither of us have on bras, and our boobs press against each other’s.
Bob was arrested once. Two jocks jumped him while he was coming out of a gay bar.
Bob won the fight but then he was the one taken away in handcuffs. At this time, he was already in and out of hospitals. Our dad knew the judge and got his sentence suspended. My dad told me all this later, when I was nineteen. We were in his living room, in his little house, the one only a street over from the cemetery. He said it was affordable. I knew he moved there to stay close to Bob. He is buried there now, too, one row back from Bob, caddy cornered.
The sun is coming up. BJ and David are still here but gone, somewhere else, to some sea of cocaine and their own memories. When I was a baby, Bob moved to Florida. Two weeks later he moved back. He said he missed me too much. He babysat me. My sister said he did blow off the coffee table in our living room. Is this why I do it? I dream of this living room with brown shag carpet and thick dark mirrors around the wall with crinkles of gold. It is bi-level with steps like in a Seventies’ sitcom. But I don’t think that is right.
His funeral is huge. The procession goes for miles. I stay outside most of the time, on the porch watching cars drive down Union Avenue. My niece is there—from my other brother. She’s only five. She twirls on the porch in the bright sun in her pretty red and white dress. It’s hot. The end of July in Memphis. It is easy to be with her. Easier out here than inside. Inside there’s a memory I do not want.
Everyone’s talking about the shirt he has on.
A button down with swirling colors of orange and pink.
It was one of his friend’s shirts he had borrowed and never gave back. The story is that he said, you can have it back when I die.
The process of forgetting has variables. There may have been a problem with the way the information was encoded. If information is not recognized as meaningful or important [like when you don’t know your brother is dying] then it won’t be recorded accurately and you are less likely to remember it. Another theory of forgetting is that memories decay and eventually disappear [bites little holes until nothing is left]. Rehearsing information helps to keep the information intact and not disappear over time.
I dig through memories. I have a vague recollection of being told that he has a patch on the AIDS quilt. I have searched and searched the website but haven’t found it. I google toxoplasmosis—medical jargon, definitions, the CDC, and Wikipedia. I read essays on the AIDS pandemic and poetry collections about those lost to AIDS, yet I still can’t find him.
The sun dips down behind the flea market building and sends pink and purple hues across the sky. The metal swing sways in the rare June breeze. I’m stuck on top of a Ferris wheel with my sister and Bob’s girlfriend. I cling to my six year old sister, the wind blurs my eyes. The whole contraption creaks, bolts turn longing to release and fall to the concrete. It’s 1979. I can see Bob down on the asphalt. His arms wave and his fingers point. I hear him yelling at the man in overalls that runs the wheel. I wait. The three of us wait. I know Bob is going to jump onto the first swing and climb the wheel to come get me. My big brother is going to rescue me. I’m two years old. Bob still dated girls.
I don’t really remember this.
Kat Moore was the winner of Profane Journal’s 2016 Nonfiction Prize. She has essays in Blunderbuss, New South, Salt Hill, Whiskey Island, Yemassee, and others. Her poetry is in or forthcoming from Permafrost, Souvenir, decomP, and others. She also has short fiction in Cheap Pop Lit. She is looking forward to a residency this summer with Sundress Academy of the Arts. And, with help from an Angel, she finally found Bob’s patch on the AIDS quilt.